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First Thoughts: Damage control

WikiLeaks leak is more damage control for the Obama White House… Damage control can also describe the administration’s efforts to pass new START in the lame duck… Mark Kirk gets sworn in at 5:30 pm ET… The House’s must-do list for this week… Senate turns its attention to DADT… And the recount in Minnesota (anyone else having déjà vu?) begins at 10:00 am ET.

*** Damage control: For the better part of the past two years, “damage control” has been this administration’s middle name -- whether it has been rescuing the financial industry, saving the health-care legislation from defeat, firing Stanley McChrystal, trying to stop the BP spill, and most recently dealing with the TSA pat-down story (which turned out to be more hype than reality over the Thanksgiving holiday). And now comes the Obama administration’s latest damage-control challenge: coping with the WikiLeaks dump of secret State Department cables. Presidential administrations can pick some of their fights (see health care), but most of their fights pick them. As the New York Times, a recipient of the WikiLeaks leaks, writes: “The disclosure of the cables is sending shudders through the diplomatic establishment, and could strain relations with some countries, influencing international affairs in ways that are impossible to predict.” NBC’s Andrea Mitchell reports that we can expect to hear from Secretary of State Clinton this morning.

*** I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley: A few other stray thoughts regarding the WikiLeaks leak: Will it change American diplomacy and interaction with other countries, or will this slowly fade over time? We’re already hearing a lot of "there's nothing surprising here" or " there's nothing you folks in the media didn't already know in some form." (And expect those lines to continue to be uttered by folks in the administration all this week as it's right out of the "damage control 101" playbook.) Still, to see this laid out for all to see can’t be dismissed. On Iran, we've known the Saudis were quietly supportive of the saber-rattling, but does the fact so much of the rest of the Arab world is there to translate into more pressure to act? Iran may be more isolated than even they thought. Perhaps that's why Ahmadienjiad had to issue a statement today re: Wikileaks. The most damaging allegation for the U.S. is easily the U.N. spying. How any government official can explain this away is beyond us…

*** I just want to tell you both good luck; we're all counting on you: Damage control can also describe the White House’s efforts to get the new START treaty passed during the lame-duck Congress. On “Meet the Press” yesterday, GOP Sen. Jon Kyl reiterated his opposition to passing the treaty during the lame duck, but he said his opposition was “a matter of reality, not a matter of policy.” Translation: There’s just not enough time during the lame duck to pass it. “Harry Reid … can bring the START treaty up anytime he wants to, but he has a different agenda,” Kyl said. “He wants to do the Dream Act in order to appeal to certain segments of the Hispanic community. The 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy to appeal to the gay and lesbian community. To appeal to the unions, he wants to do the so-called firefighters federal unionization bill. In addition to various political commitments that he's made to do legislation in the lame duck session, we have to fund the government for the remaining 10 months of the fiscal year.” Is this Kyl simply trying to get the Dream Act -- and a few other items -- off the lame-duck calendar?

*** A hospital? What is it? It's a big building with patients, but that's not important right now: On Capitol Hill today, Vice President Biden swears in Mark Kirk (R) as Illinois’ next senator at 5:30 pm ET. Consider this: Democrats’ 60-seat Senate is now down to 58 -- thanks to Republicans winning Ted Kennedy's seat (earlier this year) and Kirk winning Obama's old seat (earlier this month). But also remember this: When Obama was inaugurated, Democrats had 58 Senate seats. Arlen Specter’s switch in the spring of ’09 gave them 59, and Al Franken’s swearing in gave them 60.

*** I'm doing everything I can... and stop calling me Shirley! Also on Capitol Hill, there are a few must-do items on the House’s agenda this week, NBC’s Shawna Thomas notes. First, it needs to pass a continuing resolution to keep the government running, since the money that keeps the lights on runs out on Friday. Second, the House will work to pass its Medicare doc-fix, since Medicare rates for doctors are supposed to drop by the end of the month if Congress doesn’t act. (The Senate already passed a one-month extension before the Thanksgiving holiday.) Third, this isn’t technically on the agenda, but it’s worth keeping an eye on whether the House will consider extending unemployment benefits again; the benefits run out on Tuesday. (As Thomas reminds us, House Democrats earlier brought up this extension to the floor as a suspension bill and it didn’t pass.) There’s one other item on the House’s agenda: Charlie Rangel’s possible censure. Per Thomas, it’s expected that the House will vote on Rangel, and if the yeas win, he would then have to stand in the well of the House as the Speaker publicly rebukes him.

*** The life of everyone on board depends upon just one thing: finding someone back there who can not only fly this plane, but who didn't have fish for dinner: Over in the Senate, the debate whether to repeal the ban on gays and lesbians serving openly in the military hits a critical point in that chamber this week, NBC’s Ken Strickland reports. The Pentagon report on repealing the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" law will be released Tuesday, and the Senate Armed Services Committee holds hearings on Thursday and Friday. Most Republicans are withholding support for repealing DADT without first having read the Pentagon report and reviewed it in subsequent hearings. They want to ensure it's supported by the troops and doesn't hurt performance, morale, or recruitment. But other Republicans -- led by John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- dispute the intent of the report and are likely to dismiss its findings or conclusions. They claim the report only addresses "how" DADT would be repealed, not whether it "should" be. On Sunday, Graham said DADT "is not going anywhere" in the lame duck session.

*** Nice beaver! (Or gopher!) It’s déjà vu in Minnesota, as another statewide recount begins today at 10:00 am ET. This recount in the Mark Dayton (D)-vs.-Tom Emmer (R) gubernatorial contest “follows on the heels of a 2008 standoff over a U.S. Senate seat for Minnesota that stretched into the following summer,” the AP writes. All sides say they're eager to button up this election sooner. But given the stakes, no one is taking the recount lightly. Dayton hopes the recount validates a nearly 8,800-vote lead he had coming in, giving his party the governor's office for the first time in two decades.” More: “If all goes as planned, every ballot will have had a second look by Dec. 7, and stacks of disputed ballots will have been sent to St. Paul for the state Canvassing Board to rule on. A winner could be certified by Dec. 14, although litigation could follow.”

*** The other things to watch today and this week:
Today: Possible presidential candidate Mike Pence addresses the Detroit Economic Club.
Tuesday: President Obama meets with bipartisan congressional leaders at the White House.
Wednesday: The deadline for Obama’s debt-reduction commission to offer its final recommendations.
Friday: The Labor Department releases its jobs report for November.

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